By Xu Aiying
Video = YouTube channel NaraeDav’s Songs

“I believe that the shaping of Korea’s image is through each person. For this, I want to work hard to spread the Korean language and songs to the world.”

The music concert “Gemeinsame Wege” (Common Ways) on July 8 at the Konzerthaus Berlin was held to commemorate the 140th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Germany. The stage featured songs expressing the sentiments of both countries.

The Dortmund Youth Choir sang folk songs in acapella under the direction of conductor Joung Narae, a native of Jinju, Gyeongsangnam-do Province, attracting a standing ovation. The group won the top prize at this year’s German Choir Competition in Hannover.

“Korean songs are always heard during the choir’s break time,” Joung proudly said about her group. “The kids grew interested in Korea by singing with me and fell in love with Korean songs.” on July 17 held a written interview with Joung, a resident of Germany. The excerpts are below.

A German youth choir has a Korean conductor. How did this relationship start?
The Dortmund Youth Choir is from a school in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, whose members are ages 13-16. I met them in 2017 when they were part of a children’s choir and I was the associate conductor and vocal teacher. 

When the children’s choir was turned into a youth choir in 2019, the children said they really wanted me to stay with them, so I was named the full-time conductor and started working. The children were both curious about me and grew interested in Korea at the same time.

Your choir won the German Choir Competition in uncharacteristic fashion by singing Korean songs like “Moon, Moon, Bright Moon.” What was the response there like?
We heard from the judges and the audience that Korean songs both touched and moved their hearts. Some of them showed interest in the meaning of the songs and said they were curious in Korean history after listening. 

I received many questions from people mesmerized by the song “Moon, Moon, Bright Moon” asking me what country the song was from and who composed and arranged it. The German public broadcaster ZDF also introduced the song. 

Conductor Joung Narae on July 8 leads the Dortmund Youth Choir at the concert

Conductor Joung Narae on July 8 leads the Dortmund Youth Choir at the concert “Common Ways” at the Konzerthaus Berlin to commemorate the 140th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Germany. (Korean Cultural Center in Germany)

Being a Korean who conducts a German choir that sings in Korean must’ve been hard. What was the process like?
Pronunciation is important when singing a song but so is knowing the story behind that song. For “Moon, Moon, Bright Moon,” I told them the Korean folktale “The Rabbit on the Moon.” To sing “Arirang,” I asked the Korean school in Dortmund to give the choir a class on Korean history.

I’m also not German, so I took courses in the German language and culture to teach the choir better. I became a trusted Korean conductor thanks to never giving up and choir members who believed in me. I consider the members precious for their curiosity in Korean history and their love for both the Korean language and people and thank them.

When leading the choir, can you feel Korean culture’s popularity in Germany?
In Germany, people love dearly anything with the prefix “K” like K-pop, K-cosmetics and K-fashion. My choir also prefers Korean products when they order clothing or cosmetics. Whenever this happens, I believe that Korea’s global image is one of trust.

You headed general planning for the July 8 concert in Berlin to mark the 140th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Korea and Germany. What was that like?
Because it was the 140th anniversary of diplomatic ties between both countries, we prepared Korean songs and connected a medley of Korean and German songs into one tune. Before the concert, German youths sang the national anthem of Korea and vice versa to show respect for each other’s country. In the second half of the concert, the choir sang “The Peacemakers” by Karl Jenkins. We selected the song to convey the message that both countries will work together to achieve peace.

Your choir’s win in the competition led to its selection as Germany’s representative in a global contest. What are your group’s plans?
We earned the right to enter an international choir competition in Europe. We’ll also go on a tour of the U.S. next year.

I now want my choir to enjoy music and do performances to share Korean music, rather than just participating in a competition. I want it to develop into a choir that promotes Korea’s beauty and songs abroad to unite the world.